This is a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, County of Allegheny Official Mail-in General Election Ballot in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Allegheny County Mail-In Ballot
This is a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, County of Allegheny Official Mail-in General Election Ballot in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The mail-in ballots could make a difference in the 45th state Senate District race, where incumbent Democrat Jim Brewster and Republican Nicole Ziccarelli are separated by a few thousand votes.

PITTSBURGH — More than 2,000 undated mail-in ballots cannot be counted in Allegheny County, an appeals court ruled Thursday, saying handwritten dates “provide a measure of security.”

The 2-1 Commonwealth Court decision could swing the contest in the 45th state Senate District, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster had about 6,128 more votes than Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli as of noon on Friday.

Judge Kevin Brobson, a Republican, said to ignore the requirement that mail-in voters date the outside of return envelopes “would constitute a judicial rewrite of the statute.”

In a dissent, the panel’s lone Democrat, Judge Michael Wojcik said a blank or even simply unsigned declaration on the outer envelope would be disqualifying, but the ballots are time-stamped.

“I view the requirement of a voter-inserted date on the declaration as similar to the issue of the color of ink that is used to fill in the ballot,” Wojcik wrote.

The case was sent back to Allegheny County.

The issue, however, is already at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which on Wednesday agreed to hear a case involving Republican President Donald Trump’s campaign seeking to have more than 8,000 ballots disqualified in Philadelphia because voters who signed their ballots failed to also handwrite their names, addresses or the date.

Ziccarelli also has a lawsuit pending in Westmoreland County that argues elections officials in that part of the Senate district treated mail-in ballots without secrecy envelopes inconsistently and improperly counted some provisional ballots.

In that case, she argues the elections board should not have allowed all votes to count from voters who had to cast provisional ballots and were also directed to sign the poll book. The signatures on a precinct’s poll book make it unclear whether those voters also cast a conventional voting machine vote.

Brewster, a former mayor of McKeesport, is the ranking Democrat on the Law and Justice and Game and Fisheries committees. Ziccarelli is a lawyer from New Kensington.

The state Senate is days from the end of its current term, with Republicans holding a 28-21 majority, along with an independent who caucuses with the GOP. A Ziccarelli win would give Republicans a 30-20 working majority in January.